Priorities that set great leaders apart

A leader’s effectiveness sets the tone for the success of his organization. The more effective a leader is, the more successful his company gets. But the leader’s effectiveness is tied to his priorities. Being the leader, there will be so much demand on his time. Unless he is able to ward off distractions and concentrates on what brings the highest value to him and the organization, he would become an average leader and his organization would be a laggard.

Here are five priorities that set great leaders apart.


Get better daily

Daily development should be a leader’s major priority. This is because unless a leader grows his capacity daily, his organization cannot experience daily growth. Growing his capacity daily is sine qua non for a leader who wants to make a success of his career because the quality of leadership provided is a function of the level of development the leader has subjected himself to. A well-developed leader will take well-informed decisions that will have a great impact on the organization’s people and process.

A leader is a change agent. But for a leader to birth the right change, he must not be in doubt about what to change, when to change it and how to effect the change. If he does not know what to change or he does not know enough about what to change, he will be unable to lead the change. The destiny of an organization is determined by its leaders. So, to remain vibrant, it is best that an organization is led by a knowledge-seeking leader because that is what determines the level of success it can hope to attain.

Then, in a fast changing environment, a leader must be up to date to meet the demands of the times. It is for this reason that a leader must ensure that he is well-informed so that he can take excellent decisions without much ado. It is failure to pay attention to the requirement of the future by limiting interest to the competences required for the moment that causes companies to get stuck in the markets they serve. A company should redefine what’s possible, rather than simply meeting pre-existing goals and standards. An organization should not only be concerned about the present; it should also make plans for the future. But the type of preparations made for the future by an organization is determined by the leadership it has because it is the leader’s responsibility to guide an organization into taking the decisions today that will grow its fortune tomorrow. But if the leader is not equipped for this, he would be found wanting and this will affect the organization’s level of preparedness for the future. So, it is vital that a leader must engage in continuous self development.

Great leaders top up their knowledge base daily because they know that they face different challenges everyday and therefore cannot rest on ancient knowledge to tackle modern challenges. So, leaders who know their onions set daily targets for personal upskilling and capacity development. According to Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, spending one hour daily on reading is a critical ingredient of his success. He says, “Every book teaches me something new or helps me see things differently. Reading fuels a sense of curiosity about the world, which I think helped drive me forward in my career.”


Mentoring the next generation of leaders

One of the basic tasks of the leader is to develop the people of his organization. This is because without the people not much can be achieved. The strength of an organization is the people. A company can only get as big or strong as the collective capacity of the people permits it. So, one of the best things a leader can do for his organization is to transfer the skills, knowledge, discipline and worldview that have helped him on his leadership journey to others. But a leader cannot focus on all the people at once, so he has to concentrate on those who are most critical to the sustenance of the organization across all sections or departments.

Following Pareto’s Principle, which says that 80 per cent of an organization’s revenue is generated by 20 per cent of its workforce, while 80 per cent of workforce produces only 20 per cent of its revenue, the leader should narrow those he will personally mentor to just 20 per cent of the workforce. If the number is high, he can reduce it to 20 per cent of the 20 per cent which will come down to 4 per cent. If he is still left with an unwieldy figure, he may make it 20 per cent of the 4 per cent which will bring it down to 0.8 per cent.

These are the members of the workforce that the leader must invest himself in. He must have a schedule that will allow him interface with some of these people daily and he must consistently share the vision of the organization with them, while developing their thinking capacity and growing their problem-solving ability.

While these people would form the nucleus of the leader’s mentorship programme, other leaders in the organization should be encouraged to mentor other category of workers to ensure that everyone keeps getting better. Those who benefit from the mentoring programme should also be encouraged to mentor others so that the whole workforce could be inspired.


Planning for the future

Perhaps the most important of a leader’s responsibility is to preserve his organisation for the next generation. This does not just happen; it becomes a reality when a company continues to be relevant in the market where it operates. A company enjoys sustained relevance only if its leaders deliberately engage in forward-thinking activities.

Forward-thinking leaders do not wait for the future to happen before they start running helter-skelter. They take control of the future by daily planning and preparing for it. They study the trend in their industry and project into the future. This makes it possible for them to see opportunities that are not obvious, and threats that are not apparent. With this advantage, the leader can take appropriate steps to appropriate the opportunities and mitigate the threats.

If a leader does not make it a point of duty to daily reflect on and plan for the future, his organization would face the risk of extinction. That is what happened to Blockbuster CEO, John Antioco.

By 2000, when Reed Hastings, founder of Netflix, proposed a partnership to Blockbuster CEO, John Antioco, that would see Netflix run Blockbuster products online while Blockbuster would promote Netflix in its stores, Antioco had already established a reputation for himself as a retail genius. He knew the business as he did the back of his hands. Blockbusters had thousands of retail locations, millions of customers, massive marketing budgets and efficient operations. Blockbuster was the biggest in the industry; it was on top of the world. So, Antioco could not see any need for the collaboration, especially as Hastings and his three-year old company were unknown to him. However by this time, it was already becoming apparent that the future of retail was online with the strides Amazon was making with e-marketing. But with the money streaming in from the traditional channels, Antioco did not readily see the need for any change. He did not understand the emerging trend in the industry, he was not reflecting on what would likely happen and so, he was not willing to leave his comfort zone. Consequently, he spurned the offer and continued running his business as he had always done. However, Blockbuster went bankrupt in 2010 as a result of the migration of its customers online. Today, Netflix, the beneficiary of the migration, is worth over $34billion.

It does not matter what feats Antioco might have recorded in the past, what he is remembered for now is that Blockbuster died on his watch. This happened because he did not take time to study the trend in his industry and was deficient in preparing the business for the future.


 Solve a problem daily

It is the calling of leaders to solve problems. A leader who does not solve problem is not worth the title. As expressed by General Colin Powell, former American Secretary of State, “Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care.”

For leaders, problem solving is a journey, not a destination. If a leader was able to solve problems yesterday but is unable to do same today, he loses his relevance. Followers throng leaders who are able to proffer solutions to their challenges and avoid those who cannot.

When a leader makes it a priority to solve a problem daily, his capacity to solve problems increases and he becomes a better leader because he is able to offer greater value to those he leads.

Most leaders who fail to solve problems approach problematic situations with a wrong mindset. Leaders must be resolute about the fact that every problem has a solution and it is their responsibility to find the solution and fix same. Leaders also find problems difficult to solve because they are unable to raise their thinking. As put by Einstein, a problem cannot be solved at the same level of thinking that created it. So, solving a problem starts with having the right mindset and being creative.


Stay positive no matter what happens

It is not always that situations turn out as envisaged by the leader. But no matter how things play out, a leader must make it a duty to stay positive.

Nothing works like a positive attitude. Positive attitude produces optimism and unleashes latent energy. It dulls worries and fears while playing up possibilities. Having a positive attitude is making a choice to see a situation from the bright side instead of viewing it from the horrible side. It is a determination to see the glass as half full instead of half empty. Positive attitude puts the dividing line between a leader who is able to steer his people from adversity to prosperity and one who leaves them enmeshed in their catastrophe.

Positivity is very important because as Napoleon Bonaparte observed, a leader is a dealer in hope. It is a leader’s responsibility to give his people hope. But he can only give them hope if he himself is full of hope and imbued with a positive attitude hinged on a belief that things would eventually work out well.

It is very important for the leader to stay positive always because if he allows unfavourable situations to weigh him down, the message transmitted to those he leads is that of hopelessness and helplessness. This will affect their morale as well as productivity and this may put the company in a more serious bind.


Last line

Getting your priorities right is the first step to success.


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